Spare Us Another Hate-filled Israeli Election Campaign

עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick
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A billboard depicting leading journalists in northern Tel Aviv with the slogan 'They won't decide,' January 18, 2019.
A billboard depicting leading journalists in northern Tel Aviv with the slogan 'They won't decide,' January 18, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick

Sharon Dartaba is one of the Likud’s secret weapons. His job is to collect information of the less pleasant kind about political adversaries. People in Likud are apparently quite happy with his work because his monthly salary in September was 71,049 shekels ($21,094). The people who disseminated the information Dartaba collected, Jonathan Orich and Topaz Luk, each earned about 66,000 shekels, and Likud’s director general, Zuri Siso, brought home 83,204 shekels.

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These are not excessive salaries in the flourishing elections industry in Israel: Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s advisers earned more in these elections (a monthly salary of about 100,000 shekels each). All told, the “super-advisers” of the 2019–2020 election season earned more than 1 million shekels.

It’s unclear whether we’re about to face a fourth electoral battle in two years, but the weapons have to be sticks and stones. In a utopian world, the election campaign would begin with a clear move of cancelling all election propaganda budgets. We don’t need image advisers and strategists to produce sophisticated campaigns; nor do we need cruel “negative” attacks on politicians who are mostly good and honest people; nor to spread hatred as a work tool that the state pays for generously; nor to invest huge sums in advertising on Facebook or a bloated cadre of grassroots activists who “fight for every vote” to reach the same outcome for the fourth time.

This is not just an efficiency proposal due to the coronavirus. Even if the public coffers had not dwindled, it would be appropriate to consider a very deep slashing of the election propaganda budget. The savings, from dozens to hundreds of millions, is not just about money. There’s also a clear profit in terms of a contribution to public sanity. An ugly election campaign is not inevitable; we can and should strip all players in the arena of their weapons. At least the weapons that the state gives them.

In any case, during the pandemic there are no huge rallies, no activists at the junctions and no atmosphere in the streets. By the way, it’s an open secret that for years now there is no political grassroots and the battles no longer take place there. Most politicians find it a burden to campaign in malls, with the possible exception of Likud lawmaker David Amsalem, who is a natural at mingling with the vendors at the open-air market . All the rest really can’t stand it.

Likud lawmakers David Amsalem (R) and Yoav Gallant on the campaign trail in the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem, March 19, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

And even the creators of the campaigns don’t believe them: that Likud gave the Defense Ministry to a half-baked deviant liable to blackmail by the Iranians, and the Foreign Ministry to a criminal who ruined the army – and that those two both joined Erdogan’s government. So what do we need all this for?

Indeed, the cancellation of the election propaganda might mean making the strong stronger – those that control the government ministries and Facebook pages that generate a lot of likes. But this is the situation today anyhow. We are experiencing reckless election economics and social media gone wild. The solution must be penalties for breaking the rules, more than the ludicrous fines imposed now by the Central Election Committee.

Politicians have no reason to fear such a reform. After all, their activities certainly speak for themselves. It’s clear that the communities where lawmaker Orly Levi-Abekasis is strong will support her at the ballot box. There’s no doubt that people for whom strategic issues are important will thank Knesset member Orit Farkash-Hacohen for her work, and I’m sure that Likud will reap a huge benefit on Election Day from the great achievement of imposing a second lockdown (before anybody else!).

In this new era, those who were paid to dig up information on political rivals can instead join the teams conducting epidemiological investigations. Image advisers can volunteer in the reconciliation cabinet. And maybe we can all have a little rest after two difficult years.